On September 10, 2009, David Oxenford addressed the Christian Music Broadcasters’ Momentum ’09 Conference in Orlando, Florida. Dave’ s presentation was titled 18 Issues in 18 Minutes: What a Broadcaster Should Worry About From Washington DC. In 18 minutes, Dave discussed topics including the FCC’s proposed localism rules, sponsorship identification and noncommercial underwriting issues, contest fines, FCC technical
The FCC today adopted new requirements for television broadcasters to quarterly file a report with the FCC quantifying their service to the public. The order also requires that stations keep their public file on their website, if they have a website. Broadcasters will also be required to broadcast twice each day a notice as to how listeners can find their public file. This order resolves some of the issues raised in a rulemaking proceeding (about which we wrote here) begun over 7 years ago as part of the rules to govern TV’s digital transition. Yet these new rules apply to analog as well as digital television operations. In fact, the public file rule goes into effect 60 days after the publication of the FCC’s order in the Federal Register.
The new FCC form will replace the Quarterly Issues Programs lists prepared by licensees since the mid-1980s. The Quarterly Issues lists were originally adopted to replace more detailed reporting requirements which forced broadcasters to collect and file the same types of information that the FCC is now requesting. While the new forms are not yet released, from the discussion at the FCC meeting, it appears that they will require the following information:
- Details about civic and election coverage provided by the station
- Information about programming from independent producers that is aired by the station
- Information about the number of Public Service announcements (PSAs) aired by the station
- A description of efforts that the station has undertaken to serve its community
- Specifics about emergency information provided by the station
- Information about how emergency and other information is provided to viewers with disabilities
- There was also some discussion that indicated that the reports would require information about how stations ascertain the needs of their community that are addressed in their programs.
The FCC has released the agenda for its Open Meeting to be held on Tuesday, November 27. The agenda is full of issues of importance to broadcasters, and several items may resolve issues that may be troubling – including issues relating to low power FM stations (LPFM) and resolving a long outstanding proceeding concerning the possibility of mandatory public interest obligations for TV stations. The Commission also has on tap initiatives to encourage the entry of minorities and other new entrants into the broadcast business – even though comments on the Commission’s proposals on this matter were received just a month ago.
First, the Commission is to release an Order on Low Power FM. We have written about some of the issues that could be decided previously – including issues of whether or not to allow the assignment and transfer of such stations (here) and whether to give these stations preferences over translators and even improvements in full power stations (here and here).
On the TV side, the Commission seems ready to issue an order on the public interest obligations of television operators. We wrote about the proposals – made as part of the Commission’s DTV proceedings (though to be applicable to all TV stations), here. Proposed rules included the standardization of quarterly issues programs lists, making station’s public fies available on the Internet, and quantifying other public interest obligations.
A reminder to all radio and television broadcast stations, both commercial and noncommercial, that Quarterly Issues Programs Lists reporting on the important issues facing the stations’ communities, and the programs aired in the months of July, August, and September dealing with those issues must be prepared and placed in the stations’ public inspection file…
The FCC released an order today, fining a broadcaster $20,000 for misrepresentations made in its license renewal application about the completeness of its public inspection file. The fine issued in this case was not a fine for the fact that the file was incomplete (two stations in the cluster had each already been fined $4000 for the actual public file violations), but instead the fine was issued because the licensee had certified in its renewal application that the public file had been complete and accurate at all points during the course of the license term. This case highlights both the need to keep an accurate public inspection file, and the need to carefully consider all certifications made in FCC applications. Incorrect certifications can lead to fines and potentially even more severe sanctions if the FCC finds an intentional misrepresentation or lack of candor – the potential loss of a license. Admitting a minor paperwork transgression like an incomplete public file will result in a fine – an inaccurate certification which appears to try to hide a problem can lead to far more severe consequences.
In this case, the FCC found that the licensee had not maintained Quarterly Issues Programs lists. The licensee claimed that its obligations had been met through a listing of public service announcements that the stations had put in their files. The FCC rejected that argument, citing the requirement in its rules requiring that Quarterly Issues Programs lists contain "a narrative description of what issues were given substantial treatment" by the licensee as well as the programs that treated each issue. In addition, the time and date of broadcast of each program, as well as its title and duration, is to be provided. A simple list of PSAs does not meet these requirements – as it does not list the issues addressed, much less provide the detailed program information required by the rule. For a summary of the Quarterly Issues Programs list obligations, and a model form to be used to meet the obligations, see our most recent memo on the subject, here. Remember, the Quarterly Issues Programs Lists are a broadcast station’s only official record of how they have served the public interest needs of its community, so be sure that adequate attention is paid to the completion of these forms.